Yes, that is what I said and all Evangelicals/RightWing/Christian Nationalists/Dominionist climbed aboard the faith based gravy train. Oh a few Jewish, Muslim, Mainline Christian organizations received small amounts, but the majority of a 5 billion windfall went to conservative religious groups. And the best thing of all was the Bush administration was not interested in any feedback as to how those funds were used. That’s right, as you would expect from the Bush administration they were not worried about the details and boy did these groups take advantage of that bonanza.
OFBCI was established by Bush through executive order on January 29, 2001, representing one of the key domestic policies of Bush’s campaign promise of “compassionate conservatism”. The initiative sought to strengthen faith-based community organizations and expand their capacity to provide federally-funded social services, with the idea having been that these groups were well-situated to meet the needs of local individuals. As Texas governor, Bush had used the “Charitable Choice” provisions of the 1996 welfare reform(which allowed “faith-based” entities to compete for government contracts to deliver social services) to support the work of faith-based groups in Texas. To me that implies that the Right has been using this as a proving ground for their ideas of getting rid of social services the government has to offer and putting it onto the backs of religious and community organizations to help the poor and disabled among us.
The diversion of billions of taxpayer money from secular social services to sectarian religious outfits was probably the most under reported story of the Bush administration. Bush’s faith based initiative became a spoils system for evangelicals. Technically they were not supposed to prostelyze with those funds but tell that to Set Free Indeed, a faith-based recovery program for addicts in Baton Rouge LA. Set Free is publicly funded but the recovery process is faith based and attendees must have a true conversion to attend. In the faith-based regime of Bush replacing the New Deal with conversion is key to recovery. These evangelical ministries are involved in everything from prison programs and job training to teen pregnancy prevention, supplanting the safety net that was supposed to catch all Americans.
Tracking the exact sum of federal grant money distributed through Bush’s faith-based program was notoriously difficult as this money was divided up between various federal departments and agencies, as well as with each state being provided a lump sum for its own dispersant. In March of 2005, however, “Bush proudly told a conference of religious leaders that the federal government gave $2 billion in grants to faith-based groups the year before (Kingdom Coming Michelle Goldberg 2006, pg. 108). We do, however, know that by 2004, some $300 million dollars had yet to promote healthy marriages and another $75 million for responsible fatherhood has produced no real results, two issues which disproportionately affect the black community.
So Bush and Rove came up with a new way to “use” public funds to win another four years in the White House with Bush’s Executive Order that created the OFBCI. Although government grants to religious charities are by no means new, President Bush took this practice to an unparalleled height. As the self-avowed evangelical Amy Sullivan noted in a 2004 Washington Monthly article, “‘[t]he policy of funding the work of faith-based organization has, in the face of slashed social service budgets, devolved into a small pork-barrel program that offers token grants to the religious constituencies in Karl Rove’s electoral plan for 2004 while making almost no effort to monitor their effectiveness (as quoted by Goldberg 2006, pg. 109).’” John DiIulio, the first head of Bush’s faith-based programs agrees as well, noting, “There is no precedent in any modern White House for what went on in the Bush White House: a complete lack of a policy apparatus…What you’ve got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis (as quoted by Goldberg 2006, pg. 121).’” From a governing perspective, what took place in the White House’s faith-based program is abhorrent, yet from a political perspective, one would have to say Bush’s faith-based program was a resounding success, particularly as it may well have been the difference between victory and defeat in 2004.
In courting black voters, Bush knew he would never win the demographic outright, but in tight elections you don’t need to win every demographic, you just need to improve upon your previous showing. Through his faith-based grants Bush succeeded in wooing “black leaders, many of them evangelical clergy who lead large congregations. When on election night it became evident that Kerry’s bid for the White House hinged on his ability to carry the state of Ohio (where the election itself was decided by the slimmest of margins), Bush’s improved showing among black voters, a jump of 7 percentage points, proved too steep a hill for Kerry to climb. Ultimately, it appears Bush’s gamble on winning over just enough black voters paid off, as in Ohio, this group proved to be a determining factor between a second Bush presidency and a Kerry victory (Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies 2004). And as we all know, the right will stop at nothing to win any office in the government.
It should not be a surprise that this Faith based program would also help the Evangelicals in the area of employment. That is because the Bush administration decreed faith-based groups exempt from a 1965 executive order that bars religious discrimination in federally funded hiring. As a result, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, gay people, secularists and others were not able to compete for a growing number of social services jobs. Religious organizations were already exempt from the 1964 Civil Rights Act, barring hiring discrimination. In the past, though, the federal government held that such exemptions don’t apply to publicly funded positions-if the salary is paid for by tax dollars, the job had to be open to all. Bush decreed that now an exemption for faith-based organizations and groups such as The Salvation Army took advantage, they took it a step further by requesting all staff complete a questionnaire detailing their church/religious history. So this should not surprise people but I can tell you, I was dumbfounded. Give them access to funds others cannot receive, give them the right to discriminate in hiring and sure you will get their support. In reality, it was just another devious scheme of “Bush’s Brain”, Karl Rove, to secure voting blocks in the 2004 election.
When President Barack Obama entered office, he changed the name of the office to “Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, centralized the office and put in place a new head, Joshua Dubois (a minister from Massachussetts) and an Advisory Counsel that includes people from all faiths, secular leaders and scholars from all backgrounds. According to ABC News, the office would seek “to expand the role of this office as it relates to policy issues where religious and local leaders can be effective. DuBois will coordinate with faith-based and community organizations on social service outreach and will work to utilize these organizations’ efforts to advance the administration’s policies, with a primary focus on poverty.”
Under this President, faith-based organizations are eligible to participate in federally administered social service programs to the same degree as any other group, although certain restrictions on FBOs that accept government funding have been created by the White House to protect separation of church and state.
- They may not use direct government funds to support inherently religious activities such as prayer, worship, religious instruction, or proselytization.
- Any inherently religious activities that the organizations may offer must be offered separately in time or location from services that receive federal assistance.
- FBOs cannot discriminate on the basis of religion when providing services.
So, while the office is still in business, it has been centralized, re-staffed and under new rules, which I am sure the religious right is fuming silently about. Their personal gravy train is over and they now have to share with other groups whether they like it or not. While I would prefer that President Obama disband the Office entirely, I think we can all be relieved that he has changed the fundamentals of the Office to include outreach and administration by a wide range of Americans. I wonder, if he had stayed the course, would the religious right looked at him differently? Somehow I think I know the answer to that question.
Below are some websites that are good resources on this subject. You will find some well known names involved in this process. I will also be covering a different subject per month and I am going to try to carry it through to the election in November 2012.
Charles Colson and his prison based ministries
President Bush attends Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives National Conference
President Obama’s Amendment to the original Executive Order